USF Botanical Gardens reflects on Hurricane Ian losses, recovery

Out of all volunteers between June and December, 81% were new to the gardens due to new visibility, according to Program Assistant Angelika Kirkham. ORACLE VIDEO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Hurricane Ian caused destruction in certain areas at the USF Botanical Gardens on Sept. 28, a couple of days before its annual Fall Festival. The gardens’ program assistant Angelika Kirkham said that their speedy recovery in time for the festival could not have happened without the volunteers.

“All those major damages made us feel like we weren’t going to be able to do our festival, which would be extremely detrimental to us because it is our biggest community event,” Kirkham said.

[image_carousel source=”media: 78552,78556,78554,78553″ limit=”20″ slides_style=”default” controls_style=”dark” crop=”4:3″ columns=”1″ adaptive=”yes” spacing=”yes” align=”none” max_width=”none” captions=”no” arrows=”yes” dots=”yes” link=”none” target=”blank” autoplay=”5″ speed=”medium” image_size=”large” outline=”yes” random=”no”] Damage from Hurricane Ian. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/BOTANICAL GARDENS

The on-campus 16 acre garden is home to various species set on displays throughout the space. With the storm notices, staff and volunteers moved most plants before the hurricane. However, Operations Manager Terri Maines said to ensure safety of the guests, some areas were closed off for the Fall Festival.

The volunteers responsible for the recovery answered a Google Document survey that was published only a weekend before the volunteer day, which was held the next Monday and Tuesday, Kirkham said. Collecting around 100 hours of volunteer work, the Botanical Garden held the Fall Festival on its scheduled date.

Out of the 79 total volunteers, Kirkham said most of them were USF students. The gardens also received aid from student organizations such as the South Asian Society of Engineers, the Agrarian club and the College of Arts and Sciences Deans of Student Leadership Society.

The biggest process of recovery involved quickly assessing damages and collecting debris such as tree trunks and leaves throughout the gardens, according to Maines. Most losses will likely be reimbursed to USF due to the university’s Risk Management work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Maines said.

Volunteers were checked into the gardens and assigned a specific section to help collect debris. Maines said the overwhelming turnout and the proper tools helped the Botanical Gardens clean out in just one weekend.

“We had tools available on site for them to use, and they were assigned different sections of the garden,” Maines said. “We had a check in table, and asked people to RSVP so we knew where to assign certain people, for organizational purposes.”

Biomedical sciences major Mansi Gopu brought a couple of friends to help in the gardens after Hurricane Ian. Gopu said experiencing the stress her father endured during hurricane seasons on her family farm near Vero Beach compelled her to volunteer at the gardens.

“Hurricane recovery is always pretty devastating,” Gopu said. “Having experienced that at my family’s farm, I could only imagine what the Botanical Gardens was going through, especially with their limited staff.”

In addition to the permanent staff, there are also permanent volunteers, or those who have worked in the gardens for years. Jagoda Edelman, a volunteer in the cactus and succulents sector for around 20 years, claimed green therapy to be the best therapy. Maines said volunteers such as Jagoda are like art curators for the space.

“It’s easier if you think about the Botanical Garden as a museum,” Maines said. “And like museums have collections, our collections are plants. And in this museum we have curators responsible for our collections.”

Graduate pharmacy student Daniel Cicarelli has volunteered in the gardens consistently due to his interest in medicinal plants. He said that by the time he arrived at the gardens, there were a lot of volunteers already at work.

“People were already on the job, making sure that plants were being moved, that things [plants] were not getting soaked, or making sure that things don’t get knocked out,” Cicarelli said. “In between us and the short staff that we have here, we made it work in a short amount of time.”

To thank around 300 volunteers, the Botanical Garden held a volunteer appreciation event on Feb. 15. Kirkham said the volunteer work equated to 1785 hours in a six month period, and 86 new volunteers came to help specifically with the hurricane’s destruction.

“We really appreciate our volunteers. The amount of time they put in money wise, it would be thousands of dollars they just gave to us,” Kirkham said.